Extreme Ownership: How Stay At Home Moms Apply Battle Wisdom from U.S. Navy SEAL Team Leaders

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I lost 15 pounds, decluttered my house, and got my children to behave over the holidays and all I had to do was completely realign my value system to U.S. Navy SEAL philosophy.

 

Basically everything good that has recently happened to me happened after I realized that all my problems are all my fault. I randomly picked up the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. From this book, I realized that all my failures are my own fault, and that a good portion of my mental energy was tied up with an ego-protective mission to find external circumstances to shift culpability for my shortcomings. Mostly, my long suffering husband carried the burden of blame. I’m not sure I could efficiently describe what mental gymnastic I had to pull off to make him responsible for such atrocities as weeds in the garden, clothes that didn’t fit, and Zoe’s struggles in math, but when it finally dawned on me that the only things that I can change are the things that I take Extreme Ownership for, I finally woke up and started being effective.

 

It is empowering to take ownership for things that your ego would have you believe are beyond your control. If something is truly outside your scope of influence – for example tsunami’s, earthquakes, the flux of the Dow Jones, your neighbor’s illogical political opinions – then there is absolutely nothing that will change that something. The good news is that the converse is also true. Everything else is under your control. There is always something you can do to affect your environment. My daughter’s poor grade in math is not just her fault for not turning in her homework. It is my fault for not taking her to the library after school and providing the support she needs to complete the project. I could even take it a step further and say that it is my fault for pursuing my nursing career when my family needed me at home. If it is not my husband’s responsibility to use the weed wacker on the garden and put down pine straw, I have the freedom to plant okra and eggplants out front. If it is not all Zachary’s fault that his room is disorganized, I have the responsibility to weed out all his unloved toys and donate them to charity. The only things that I can change are the things that I accept responsibility for; and by denying the egotistical claim that I am a victim of my domestic circumstances, I free my soul to live up to its responsibility to seek peace and pursue it. There are so many cool things you can fix, when you finally realize it’s all your fault.

 

From The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, I learned that a healthy home is free of unloved items.  Forget storage solutions, which is just a more organized version of hoarding. Accumulated items come from an attempt to cling to past happiness or a thwarted attempt to resolve past suffering. Items can also accumulate from a fear of the unknown future.  Since happiness is something that is only experienced in the present, unhappiness results from allowing the mind to set its anchor in the past or even the in future. Every present moment is full of its own living eternity. To set the mind free of the past and future one must release the symbols of the past and future from the home. Decluttering a home is very similar to trimming a bonsai tree. Only the most beloved items that spark an immediate tingle of joy when you look at them should be kept. All other items should be allowed to make their way out into the universe to find new homes where they might have the opportunity to be loved in that new home. Nothing should be kept out of a sense of obligation. I threw out 37 garden size trash bags of, well, trash out of my house and made four trips to the thrift store before I felt that the chi energy was really able to flow unhindered through my home. I had to make sure that every time my eyes rested on an item in my house, that the item was loved and caused me to feel joy. The commonality woven through all the items in my house is that I love them. They bring me joy.

 

Giving things away sparked joy as well. I had collected an abundance of children’s books over the years. I liked them. But I did not love them. My soul did not sizzle when I picked one up. So my friend Ingrid and I packed them up in Trader Joe’s paper bags in the back of my truck and took them to a big trailer park on the other side of town. We must of had 15 bags. We rode our skate boards around the trailer park telling the kids to come get free books. Kids came pouring out of the nooks and crannies to see the two grown women on skateboards giving away books. They took home books by the armful and we still had two bagfuls left when they had taken their fill. It was fun. I felt like one of the disciples passing out fish and barley loaves. The 12 disciples had 12 baskets left over while we had two bags left over. You just can’t out give God.

 

So anyway, weight loss: apparently, hot yoga does not burn as many calories as contact kickboxing.  I had been used to running a metabolic furnace from dance and kickboxing and I ate a steady diet of whatever I wanted (mostly Chick-Fil-A and chocolate covered coffee beans). When I stopped taking martial arts to focus on yoga, I found that extra weight comes creeping in like a harbor fog, it sits on your haunches, but it does not tend to move on. Then, one day, your mother makes the statement, “You are getting fat. You need to stop eating out so much.” Which is extremely irritating, but then again I find that the more true something is the more irritating it tends to be when I’m confronted with it, especially by my mother. Good thing my being overweight is my fault, because if it was not, then I would not be able to do anything about it.

 

I watched the movie FedUp on Netflix, which explains how it is the added sugar in our diets, rather than fat, which is packing on the pounds.  Then I read Beyond Diet by dietitian, Isabel De los Rios which backed up the information in that documentary. Apparently, breakfast cereal is worse for weight gain than filet mignon. In the digestive system, it is the fat and fiber that hold the sugar in the alimentary canal longer, cultivating satiety, and hindering an explosion of sugar into the bloodstream. When sugar is dumped en masse into the bloodstream, from things like soda, spaghetti, or Special K, the liver has no choice but to immediately convert it into fat via liponeogenesis  (which literally means “the formation of new fats”). When sugar is mixed up with  fiber and fat, as it is in fruits for example, the fat and fiber hold the sugar in the digestive system longer. It is more slowly and evenly absorbed into the bloodstream, giving the body more time to use the food for energy.

 

Oh well, we only get one life to live. If you are going to do something you may as well do it with offensive gusto.  I went through the cabinets and refrigerator and threw out everything with added sugar. From fish sticks to cookies, spaghetti sauce to ketchup, I emptied the pantry of everything that was not inspiring health, trimming it down like a bonsai tree. As I held each item, I asked myself, “If I were to eat this entire container/box/bag, would I be healthier or sicker?” The sick food went out in the trash. For the entire month of December, except for Christmas Day, I ate not 1 gram of added sugar. 15 pounds dropped off my body as if it had not really wanted to be there anyway. As I decreased my intake of foods with added sugar, I liberally increased the amount of healthy fats in my diet. You would not believe how much olive, avocado, and coconut oil I have consumed while still losing weight. I feel less bloated and more energetic, and the children have accepted that kale salad for dinner is just part of cycle of life.

 

Speaking of kale, the kids are also listening better, for example, they do not fight with me about eating kale salad, thanks to a book loaned to me from Ingrid.  The Well-Behaved Child by John Rosemond, is a hilarious page turner, and a how to manual for getting your kids to well, behave. The premise of this book is that kids do not listen because they are naturally bad. Rosemond says that the reward-punishment system does not work because kids are not dogs and have no inborn inclination to want to obey their parents. He says we need to get back to common sense standards that are based on the wisdom of our great grandparents, unadulterated by the muddling of psychologists. In the same way that fatness has been on the rise since the advent of diet and exercise, so too has unruliness been on the rise since the advent of psychologically informed child rearing. “Because I said so” was a good enough reason for the World War II generation and it should be good enough for kids today. So here is how it works: “Zachary, If you do not get your planner signed and take an AR test today, you are going to bed with the lights out at 7:30.” When Zachary says he did not have time to take an AR test or get his planner signed, because of extenuating circumstances A, B, & C. He still goes to bed at 7:30 come hell or high water. This shifts the responsibility from me, his mommy, onto him – the future man – who will be the head of his household/business/battalion/surgical team one day. The next day, if he does not want to sit in the dark all evening, he will find a creative solution to circumvent extenuating circumstances A, B, & C to have the opportunity to take the AR test and get the planner signed. When the goal is to raise self-sufficient problem solvers, “Fix your own problem,” the mantra of Extreme Ownership, becomes the most helpful, empowering thing you can say to a whining pre-teenager.

 

“So that’s great Amanda, you cut out the fat, sass, and clutter, but do you really expect to maintain your ability to perform at this caliber. Anyone can start a new project, but who really finishes anything anymore?”  Well, I’m glad you asked that. The amazing, revolutionary new concept I propose to keep the machine running is… a checklist. After reading Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande I implemented a series of checklists which have successfully kept me fat, sass, and clutter free. This is the last step, the maintenance step. Is the one we most often avoid. We are smart, independent, creative thinkers, right? Checklists are for the minimum wage drone-workers, right? Wrong! Everyone needs checklists from the Boeing pilot who incorporates them into his everyday flight routine to the heart surgeon who thinks they are a special instrument of persecution designed by middle management to mess up his mojo. Checklists keep us from messing up the mundane so we can operate in the higher functioning plane of creative critical thinking.  The mind works most efficiently on a creative intuitive plane when it is free of the baggage of mental popup windows of partial to do lists. Why do we always remember we need cat food when we are on the computer at home, but never in the cat food aisle? Why do I remember I need to email Zoe’s teacher when I am in the cat food aisle and not when in front of the computer? Well, I do not know why, but thanks to advice from smart people like Allen and Gawande, I do know what to do about it.

 

Sunday is my day for a mental mind sweep. David Allen explains this much better than I do, but the gist of it is to get a pencil and paper and write down everything that is bugging you. Everything: from cat food to taxes. Next, write down the next actionable step taken to resolve each of the outstanding thoughts. After you have written down everything that is bugging you and what you can physically do to bring about resolution, you must categorize the actionable steps into place context. My categories, as a stay at home mom, are are follows:

  • Errands
  • Groceries
  • Things To Be Done at Computer
  • Phone Calls
  • Things I Need to Talk to Orion About
  • Things To Be Done in the Yard.

 

This way the To Do list is set as actionable steps that are completed in context. I do not forget to water the seedlings when I take out the trash. I do not even have to think about it, I can use my mental energy for doing something creative like thinking about my next high horse blog post because I am not bogged down by trying to remember the basics. I can use my brain bandwidth to live and not just survive. I do not run around the house putting out the literal and figurative fires, because a) I already took all the flammable non-essentials to Goodwill and b) I can efficiently complete my tasks in their necessary contexts.

 

In keeping with the theme of context, I have basic checklists which concisely  outline the essential tasks of each room in my home, once again freeing my mind from the rudimentary to operate on a more creative level. Some of my checklists are as follows:

 

Entry/Hallway:

  • Floor swept
  • Clutter Removed
  • Packed book bags under bench

Living Room:

  • Floor swept
  • Clutter removed
  • Couch cracks are cleaned out
  • Surfaces are wiped clean

Kitchen:

  • Floor swept
  • Clutter removed
  • Dishes are done
  • Trash is taken out
  • A fresh salad is made
  • Meat is in the iron dutch slow cooker
  • Fresh whole wheat bread is made

Dining Room

  • Floor swept
  • Clutter removed
  • Shelves are organized and attractive
  • Table is wiped with clean placemats
  • 4 chairs pushed under table

 

etc.

 

Wouldn’t you like to live here? You can. This can be your home. You can take ownership of this life. It begins with realizing that all your problems are your own fault, and ends with making checklists. In the middle of the process you can expect to do lots and lots of reading. What will you do with all your free time and space? Maybe you could start a business, host a Bible study, learn to teach yoga. Once you get the fundamentals under control, you can allow your creative energy to carry you away. I have been enjoying sewing in addition to exercising at least once a day. What will you do?

 

So I learned again with fresh understanding over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years that I did not need something more in order to be happy. I needed something less, because the less I have the more I can be thankful for it. With this understanding, I fulfilled 3 of the most common New Year’s resolutions before January was over. I am back to my healthy baseline weight, my home is organized and runs like a well oiled machine, my children are happy because they know they will not get away with being unhappy, and I am on to the next big thing, which is sewing a hoodie to look like Leetah’s cloak in the Elf Quest comics.

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